About a week ago, Annette and I decided to venture into Kathmandu to visit the Thamel district. Our guidebook indicated that this was the place where tourists hangout. We are tourists so we figured we better see whatever there was to see around Thamel.
That morning, our friend James (who is our Nepali contact with First Love Ministries, the organization that we connected with through a friend of a friend) called a taxi for us. It was a friend of his so he promised us a good price. The drive to Thamel takes about 30 to 45 minutes. Our fare was 300 rupees or $3. When our driver dropped us off, we attempted to communicate with him that we would like to be picked up at 3 o'clock if possible. We thought we had done a sufficient job in doing this so we took off through the streets of Thamel.
Thamel is a haven for trekkers as it is the hub for purchasing any gear left at home and booking last minute trips through the seemingly hundreds of travel agencies...the legitimacy of both the "North Face" gear and "agencies" are questionable. But we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. I bought a travel towel and some socks as two weeks on the Camino did a number on the two pairs I had packed. We found a rooftop restaurant...approximately seven flights of stairs up...and treated ourselves to some milk tea and pizza (when in a tourist area do as the tourists do??). The air was fresher up top and it was good to get some views of the city. We stopped in a few travel agencies to get quotes for a trek to Everest Base Camp. Then decided we had seen all that Thamel had to offer.
We returned to the corner we were supposed to meet our driver on. We were 10 minutes early so when he wasn't there, we weren't too concerned. Then 3:15 rolled around, and there was still no sign of which tiny white taxi we thought might be ours. I was beginning to regret not studying our driver's features more closely than the scenery we had passed by that morning. But... we were smart enough to get his phone number before we left him that morning. No problem, we would just call him.
Oh wait. Our $13 phone had died. My first thought was to find wi-fi somewhere and try to contact James. Then we had the idea of asking if someone could plug in our phone to charge it. Annette took the initiative on this one and asked the shopkeeper of the jewelry shop we were standing in front of if he could charge it. He was not able to charge our phone but he was happy to let us use his phone. The only problem was that all of the phone numbers we had were on the dead phone... except for one I had written down. This number was for Muktuk, James' brother, and man in charge at the children's home. So Annette's new best friend calls Muktuk, who gives him James' number, who calls our driver who is on another trip. So in the end we find out we need to find our own cab home. But in the process, Annette met a exuberant shop keeper who was more than willing to help two stranded Americans. In between her time waiting for phone calls, she learned the following bits and pieces of his story. He was a Gypsy from India who's "hobby" was making money. He also had a Canadian girlfriend at one point but she was going to be gone for 10 months. He told her he could wait a few months, but 10 months was not possible. He also enjoyed drinking beer. While Annette was being entertained by this story, I was on the street carefully inspecting each taxi that drove by... hopeful to see someone who recognized me as all Nepali taxi drivers were beginning to look alike. And then I learned we were on our own for a taxi... which we found and only had to pay fifty cents more for (after some pretty firm haggling on both or parts). Our new taxi driver called James, because we now had his number written down, and successfully got us home. We now know how to describe to taxi drivers where to take us. Lesson learned.
As we were leaving Thamel, after recounting her exchange with her new best friend, Annette declared him the first recipient of the Good Samaritan Award. We decided to call it the Good Sammy for short.
Many times when Jesus spoke, he spoke in parables, stories that the local people would understand. At one point he was asked to clarify who one's neighbor is after he instructed a group that in order to inherit eternal life you were to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV) Jesus went on to explain what a neighbor was by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. My paraphrase is something like this...
A Hebrew man is mugged as he is leaving Jerusalem. He is near death lying on the side of the road. Two of his own kind pass by and do not help. And then a Samaritan (who would not have normally interacted with a Hebrew) stopped by and not only provided "first aid" but took him in and paid for the rest of his care. Jesus asked who proved to be a neighbor? The answer was obvious. And Jesus ends the story with "Go and do likewise."
We have come here to help...in any way we can. But being the foreigners, not knowing the culture or the language, we find ourselves needing lots of help. And so far, we have not been in need of help for long.
We've talked about many who have earned the Good Sammy this past week.
Our second Good Sammy goes to another taxi driver, Kamal, who took us on the 45 minute drive to Bhaktapur, waited for us for 4 hours, and brought us back. (Just so you have a sense of the economy here... The grand total for these services was $18. Any High Mountain Taxi drivers willing to relocate?) When he dropped us off, he asked us where we wanted to go tomorrow. Gem!
Friday evening, we attended the youth group at the local church. It was all in Nepali, of course. But the Good Sammy goes to Pima who translated much of the service for us.
We eat two meals a day and have wifi access at The Way Cafe. Samden and Wanduk have been very welcoming and kind to us, even as we forgot to pay for our meal on the second day. They may be nominated for multiple Good Sammy's.
My best buddy at the children's home has become Phurbur (or Peter is his English name). His English is pretty good and he is often by my side. He sees my look of confusion when 4-year-old Daisy is in the midst of a very animated monologue on the way to school, and easily translates for me. He is also patient in teaching me Nepali and says I'm very good at practicing Nepali. My Nepali vocabulary has now expanded to include: How did you sleep? I slept fast. How are you? I am fine. Do you want to play? and Today is a beautiful day. Good Sammy to Phurbu, my Nepali teacher.
Yesterday, we took a hike up to the Kopan Monastary and a few other nearby monasteries. As we were about to pass by the stairs to take us to the monastary, an old man clucked at us from the stoop outside his home and pointed to the stairs. Good Sammy goes to wise old man who knows that all Westerners who pass his way are going to the Monastary.
Phonus, Muktuk's sixteen-year-old son, has begun to walk us home from the children's home if we leave past dark. We did not want to trouble home with the inconvenience but he assured us last night that it was good for all of us. We are safer, and he gets some time away from the always buzzing house. And, we get an opportunity to ask Phonus to clarify any cultural misunderstandings or other questions we may have come up with during the day. And he gets to practice his English. Good Sammy for Phonus!
And the same goes for his older sister Kyipa. In between studying for her week of exams, her mom, Lakba, has summoned her several times to serve as a translator between Lakba, Pasang the cook, and ourselves. I feel like Kyipa is the closest thing we have to a friend here. And she is also a good sport. Kyipa is definitely worthy of the Good Sammy.
Today, Sonam, our front-desk girl/"concierge" asked us to accompany her to Boudha as she had a shirt that she wanted to buy. Last night when we firmed up plans for this morning, she asked us how old we were. When we told her we were 30 and 32 she had a look of shock. Not sure if it was disappointment that we were nearly twice her age or surprised that we were older than she thought. Regardless, Sonam found her shirt, we shared tea on a rooftop overlooking the Boudha Stupa, which she had never done, and then she took us to her college down the street where she is training to be a medical assistant. Sonam had a sweet heart and was grateful to us for being able to practice her English. We were grateful to have an insider's look at our surroundings. Good Sammy to Sonam!
(And we got our first glimpse of the Himalayas since we've been here! Exciting!)
And, it goes without saying that James earns a Good Sammy everyday. Not sure where we would be without him. He checks in with us everyday ... He knows to find us at The Way. He updates us on how things are progressing with plans for our next children's home. And he is a good guy to know, as he seems to have connections with everyone else in this community. Good Sammy to James, a thousand times over.
Basically... I think by the end of our three months in this country, every Nepali we come in contact with could get a Good Sammy. The people are that great.
May I be reminded to "Go and do likewise"